Captain Spaulding, USN
Naval Attaché, Cairo, Egypt
A stand-up comedian whose name I can’t recall used to open his act with the line, “I grew up as a child!”
So did I. Literally.
My dad contracted polio when I was four. At the time, my family was holed up in the New-Asia Hotel in Shanghai, China, only a few months before the fall of that country to the Communist forces of Mao Tse-tung. My mom, my younger brother and I had just plowed across the Pacific aboard a military transport ship to join my dad, who was stationed in Nanking with the U.S. Air Force. Within days of our arrival, Mao's Red Army encircled Shanghai, isolating and preparing to overrun the city. Chinese Nationalist soldiers were executing Communist sympathizers in the streets. American civilians were being evacuated in a hurry. Unfortunately for us, the last ship had already departed. The only way out was by air.
Doctors at the Shanghai military hospital diagnosed Pop’s illness, but had nothing on hand with which to treat polio. Only aspirin and tomato juice. His condition deteriorated so rapidly that in a matter of days he was 50% paralyzed. He would be flown to Hawaii on the first available medical evacuation plane.
For my mom, my brother and me, however, the prospects of escaping China in the foreseeable future were grim. That is, until good ol' Mom informed the harried transportation officer that she’d been exposed to polio and that she had her two young children in tow. That got the man’s attention.
“In that case,” he said, “we happen to have reserved seats on the next flight out for the President of the United States, and I don’t think he’ll be using them.” We left China the next day, several stops later reached Honolulu in time for Thanksgiving Dinner, then transferred to a huge Navy flying boat for the last leg of our return to the United States. Landing on the water in San Francisco Bay was an "E-Ticket ride" for a wide-eyed four-year-old with a window seat.
Welcome to life as a military “brat.”
Pop eventually recovered and went on to complete his Air Force career. We lived in Tampa, Albuquerque (fourth grade, first girlfriend) and Denver before climbing aboard another troop transport bound for Japan when I was twelve. Eight months later, we were transferred to Okinawa, where I became editor of my junior high newspaper, slow danced to Elvis and Everly Brothers records and made out with lots of girls (but never made it to third base), played third base for my Babe Ruth baseball team, split a bottle of Cold Duck with a chum one night behind a Quonset hut and awoke the next morning to my very first hangover. Ugh!
Thirteen years later, I returned to Okinawa as a Navy P-3 pilot. The Vietnam War was on and we were flying surveillance missions along the Vietnamese coast. Ironically, between flights, my crew downed many a bottle of Cold Duck in the Quonset hut that served as our officers club.
In all, I would spend 26 years flying for the Navy and loved every minute of it. When I finally took off my captain’s uniform in 1993, I’d: racked up 5,000 pilot hours (many of them flying over the North Atlantic tracking those nasty Soviet ballistic missile submarines); been a squadron commander; earned a masters degree in public administration; served several tours in the Pentagon and several more in intelligence; was a member of the American Delegation to the Strategic Arms Reduction Talks in Geneva, Switzerland; and finished up as the U.S. Naval Attaché to Egypt. That too was a flying job, albeit for the Air Force rather than the Navy. Most importantly during those 26 years, I flew and worked with some of the finest people on earth, most of whom have since remained close friends. Welcome to life as a naval aviator.
There was also heartache along the way. Ev, my wife of 24 years and the mother of my sons Scott and Brian, passed away on June 2, 1999. Although we'd been divorced for 10 years by then, the divorce was as amicable as any could be and we'd remained good friends. Ev's memorial service took place in the same church in which we were married in 1965. The church was literally filled to capacity, an indication of how much everyone who knew her loved her.
My current wife Karen and I met while I was a student at the Industrial College of the Armed Forces in Washington D.C. (one of four graduate schools I was fortunate enough to complete during my career). Karen was also a naval officer at the time, an ensign assigned to the staff of the National Defense University. We were married five years later, after Kar had served a tour in intelligence and had left the Navy. We celebrated our one-year anniversary in a restaurant in London's Piccadilly Circus on our way to Egypt and my final Navy assignment. While I was doing my thing there as naval attaché, Kar served as executive officer at Voice of America, whose offices were just around the corner from the Cairo headquarters of the PLO.
Back in the States and a civilian once again, I worked in the golf business in Denver for a few years. At the same time I spent six months writing my first novel, Decree. Still in manuscript form, Decree earned an Honorable Mention in the 1996 National Writers Association novel contest against stiff competition that included a slew of established authors. That early success encouraged me to quit the golf business and self publish Decree in 1999. What a learning experience that was! I enjoy the book signings and speaking engagements that come with being a published author, but have never warmed up to the drudgery of distribution work. I find that aspect of self-publishing to be nothing but a tedious, time-consuming distraction from the creative writing process.
Three books and a few magazine articles later, I’m currently crafting another novel, plan to write at least one more book of short stories, more articles and would like to take a crack at a screenplay. Meanwhile, Kar and I moved to Colorado Springs in 2001 and are whittling away at our endless list of landscaping and home improvement projects.
Colorado Springs is home for me as it has been for two branches of the Spaulding family since 1871 and 1919, respectively. Having resided in nine different states and twenty-two foreign countries over the years, I can assure you—but please don’t let this get out—that this is by far the best place in the world to live. Even though Kar hails from Phoenix (an ASU alum), she loves it here as well.
The view today from my den window is of a snow-capped Pikes Peak silhouetted against a powder blue Colorado sky, yet the outside temperature is warm enough for shirtsleeve golf—not unusual for a winter day in Colorado Springs. But, again, please don’t tell anyone about our little paradise on earth. Promise?
In loving memory of my parents:
George H. Spaulding, Maj, USAF (Ret)
July 12, 1918 - May 25, 2002
Ila Fae Spaulding
December 25, 1921 - June 21, 2007
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